Junk Food Disguised as Health Food
“Eat food, mostly plants, not too much,” are words of wisdom from author Michael Pollan. When he says “mostly plants,” that makes sense as well as “not too much.” Eating big portions results in weight gain, discomfort, and multiple diseases. According to loads of research, eating mostly plants reduces a person’s risk for numerous diseases and promotes a healthy body. But what does “eat food” mean? What else would people eat, if not food?
What Mr. Pollan means when he says to “eat food” is to eat real food, food that our great-grandparents would recognize as food. For instance, would our great-grandparents recognize Cheetos as food? Probably not. In general, people know Cheetos are not a healthy food. But how about the plethora of other foods that have crept up on the shelves of the grocery store aisles in the last hundred years? Plenty of them make dubious claims to be healthy and promote wellness.
Unfortunately the majority of processed and boxed foods are unhealthy. There are some, though, whose claims to be healthy are particularly irksome to nutritionists and dietitians. Here are a few:
Granola bars have been the craze for the last decade and for good reason; they are convenient, delicious, and have an appearance of healthiness. Looking at a granola bar, one can see oatmeal, dried fruits, maybe some nuts and delicious chocolate morsels. The box usually claims whole grains, fiber, antioxidants, pieces of real fruit, etc., anything to make the granola bar seem healthy and wholesome.
But flip over the box and read the ingredients and nutrition facts, and the inconvenient truth is revealed. Most granola bars are 180 to 240 calories per serving with little or no vitamins or minerals according to the label. Even worse, added sugar is probably one of the first couple ingredients! So those granola bars are mainly carbohydrates with little nutrition of which to speak. Homemade oatmeal cookies are probably healthier and have less additives in them than granola bars.
Yogurt is a healthy snack, providing high-quality protein, essential minerals, and beneficial probiotics. In an effort to make yogurts more enticing and attractive to customers, though, manufacturers started adding fruits, sugar, preservatives, and food coloring, transforming what used to be a healthy food into an additive-laden dessert. Some brands of flavored yogurt are sold in 6 ounce containers and have almost 4 teaspoons of added sugar; it is basically ice cream. People have flavored yogurts for breakfast, content that they had a healthy breakfast, but would they consider melted ice cream to be a healthy breakfast? In short, plain yogurt is healthy, but sugary, flavored yogurts are desserts in disguise.
These calorie-free sweeteners make total sense. They enable people to enjoy sweet treats without the calories of true sugar. It really is a dream come true. But unfortunately like most things that are too good to be true, so are artificial sweeteners. They may not have the calories of real sugar, but they have other very real side effects. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, all of the main artificial sweeteners should be avoided because they pose risks to human health. Additionally, the Harvard School of Public Health reports that people who consume at least one beverage with artificial sweetener a day have triple the risk of experiencing a stroke or suffering from dementia than individuals who do not have artificial sweeteners. People drink them to lose weight and be healthier, but unfortunately artificial sweeteners actually do more harm than good.
Manufacturers market vegetable chips as healthier options than potato chips. Most vegetable chips are fried just like potato chips. Potatoes are vegetables. So why is a deep-fried carrot healthier than a deep-fried potato? They are both high in fat, salt, and calories. What makes vegetable chips any better than potato chips? At the end of the day, the main goal of food manufacturers is to make money. The health of their consumers is not high on their list of priorities, only the appearance that they care about your health is there. If the food needs a package to tell you that it is healthy, then you should be skeptical. In order to identify healthy foods, always read the nutrition label and especially the ingredients. Sticking to the perimeter of the grocery store is a great way to avoid most of the processed foods. In order to eat healthy, remember Michael Pollan’s advice: “Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.”
Sarene Alsharif is a licensed dietitian nutritionist in Rockford. She can be reached for private consultations, corporate wellness, lunch and learns, cooking classes and much more at firstname.lastname@example.org.